Summary: The brothers didn't succumb to the demonic plague in Croatoan but did they really make it out of that situation unscathed? This is a SFTCOL(AR)S round three exchange fic episode tag set Post-Croatoan/Hunted.

A/N: All other notes and disclaimers in part one. I'll see you on the other end of the story (that is if you deem it worthy).



Dean paced back and forth, occasionally stopping to glare at the door.

He was as angry with himself as much he was with his brother. He always had patience in abundance when it came to Sam but this time it had abandoned him.

He blamed it on their dad's death and the circumstances surrounding it. It had him completely off balance.

He wouldn't admit it but he'd even gone so far as to do some research of his own on the internet and if any of the new age crap was to be believed, he was working his way through the five stages of grief. So far he'd made it through shock/denial and inward anger and was now teetering on outward anger. Sam could certainly testify to it.

Not that he was buying into the whole grief thing. It was just another excuse and Winchesters didn't believe in excuses.

Dean lunged for the cell phone resting on the bed as it started to play the opening beats of Funkytown by Lipps Inc.

Sam thought the ring tone was funny. Dean didn't want disco blaring out of his phone, code word for trouble or not, and had threatened to damage Sam if his brother didn't replace it. He could have changed it himself -- if he could build an EMF from scratch he could certainly figure out how to download a ring tone -- but it amused his brother and although he carped about it, he left it alone. For Sam.

The same Sam who had taken a swing at the wall and disappeared over three hours ago.

He checked the caller ID and was disappointed that it wasn't Sammy. "Yeah?"

A woman, sounding slightly out of breath, cleared her voice. "Excuse me, who am I speaking to?"

Dean pulled the phone away from his ear and glared at it before answering. "Listen, sweetheart, you're the one calling me, remember? Who the hell is this?"

A long suffering sigh was heard over the line. "This is a nurse at Gundersen Lutheran ER calling. We found your number on the cell phone of a Brian Wilson who was brought in here tonight. We're trying to find a relative and this number was listed under ICE."

Dean's head was spinning. Sam was Brian Wilson to his Mike Love of Beach Boys fame on their current fake ID's.

This was bad. The blood was roaring in his ears. "This is Brian's cousin, Mike. What's wrong?"

Silence for a moment. "I really can't get into it over the phone. Can you come down to the ER?"

Dean wanted to strangle the faceless wench. What the hell was wrong with his brother? "Can you at least tell me if he's okay?"

A loud crash followed by a yell for help was heard in the background. "He's definitely holding his own. I need to go now. Please ask for Sherry when you arrive."

The call was quickly terminated by the nurse.

Dean pocketed the cell phone and scooped up his wallet and keys from the table before rushing for the door. They'd been in LaCrosse for less than four hours and already Sam was in deep shit.


Sam didn't understand what was going on. He'd woken up to find his hands secured behind his back and his head spinning.

His mind raced as he tried to figure out who or what had gotten the drop on him. Non corporeal entities didn't waste their energy on tying up their victims and the rest of the supernatural pantheon either didn't have the finesse (zombie, wendigo, werewolf) or had enough strength or power to forego bonds (vampire, shtriga, trickster). Although the shapeshifter had tied him up. And so had the female demon, Meg.

Sam was at a loss. He was surrounded by voices babbling and poking at him but he couldn't understand what they wanted him to do. He thought about curling in on himself and waiting for Dean.

But maybe they had Dean, too. Maybe he was hurt and needed Sam's help.

Sam's legs kicked out at the nearest body and he felt satisfaction at having landed a blow. "Dean!"

There was no answer. He wanted to panic but that wouldn't help his brother.

He waited a moment and when another blurry shape moved in from the right flank, he kicked out again. Another body went down.

He felt like he was finding his rhythm, in the zone, but he couldn't get too cocky. What was that term? Hubris. Pride before the fall. He didn't want to be accused of that.

Before he could plan out his next move or make sense of the situation, he felt a vicious stab in his upper left arm.

Things got muzzier and rotated around.

He tried to pull himself loose but he was stuck.

It had to be demons. It always came back to demons.

Thrashing his head from side to side, he muttered, "I'll kill you all. And if I can't, I'll kill myself first. You're not going to take me alive."

Tired from his struggles and whatever had been injected into his system, his head tilted forward and he couldn't find the strength to move it.

Dean needed him and he'd failed him. Again.


Dean put his head down on the steering wheel for a moment. He needed to slow his breathing and pull himself together. He wouldn't be any good to Sam if he flipped out in the parking lot.

He wanted to run into the ER and demand answers but he had to play it cool. He slowly and deliberately exited and locked the Impala before heading indoors.

Plastering a toothy and insincere smile on his face he approached the front desk. "Excuse, I'm supposed to ask for Sherry. My name is Mike. Is she available?"

The smile was wasted when the harried clerk didn't even look up. "Have a seat. I'll let her know you're here."

Dean moved a few paces back but he refused to sit down. He was strung so taught he thought an eyeball would pop out of its socket from the pressure building inside of him.

A short brunette came out of the double doors and paused by the clerk before walking up to Dean. "Are you Mike?" As Dean bobbed his head up and down once in confirmation she grabbed his elbow. "Could you please come with me? We need to get some information from you."

Dean dug his heels in and refused to budge. "Listen, Sherry. I'll give you whatever information you want, but first I want to see Brian."

Sherry released his elbow and stood, arms akimbo, a frown marring her smooth complexion. "The doctor wants to talk to you but I can tell you your cousin is…"

Dean wanted to shake the information out of her. "He's what?!"

Sherry seemed to arrive at some decision, her shoulders relaxing visibly. "He's being held on an emergency detention. He, ah, got a little violent and he's in restraints right now. Let's go find Dr. Kalember and he can explain what's going on."

Dean started to follow Sherry but stopped as her words sunk in. "That doesn't sound like S…Brian! You must be talking about some other guy. A case of mistaken identify."

Sherry looked at Dean with sympathy. "Really tall guy, dark longish hair, nice build?"

Dean nodded and then continued walking. It was a really generic description of his brother yet it fit.

He was escorted into what appeared to be a doctor's lounge. "Dr. Kalember? Brian Wilson's cousin is here."

A man with wire rimmed glasses and graying hair sat at a table, furiously scribbling on a legal pad. He looked more like the mad scientist than any doctor Dean had ever seen with tufts of hair standing up on end.

The doctor raked a hand through his hair before throwing his pen to the table. He looked up and blinked his wide spaced eyes at Dean with confusion.

Sherry tugged impatiently at the dark ringlets held back from her face in a loose ponytail and cleared her throat. "Excuse me, Dr. Kalember. This is Brian Wilson's cousin, Mike. You wanted to talk to him."

Bemusement finally shifted to excitement as the doctor nodded at Dean. He stood up clumsily, knocking his notes off of the table. Dropping to all fours, the doctor scrambled about, picking up the legal pad and pen.

Dean found himself glancing at Sherry with unease. This was the doctor treating Sam? Sherry refused to meet Dean's look which did nothing to dispel his doubts.

He forced himself to walk over to the doctor and offered his hand. He was treated to the limpest, most noodle like handshake he'd ever endured. No vote of confidence there.

Dr. Kalember pulled himself out of his trance and motioned to a chair at the table. "Sit, sit. First off, I want to assure you that we're doing everything we can to help your cousin."

Dean sank into the hard, plastic chair and focused all of his attention on the doctor. He nodded his head in encouragement in the hopes that the distracted doctor would pick up the pace. If he didn't, Dean wouldn't be responsible for his actions.

Glancing at his notes, Dr. Kalember began to speak in a nasal, pedantic tone. "The police brought Mr. Wilson to us on a 51.45 because they suspected his violent outburst at the establishment was due to alcohol. The rapid toxicology screen did not indicate high levels of alcohol and once we completed our initial assessment on Mr. Wilson, it became apparent that he really needed a 51.15. He's quite delusional and not only a danger to others but to himself as well. We're…"

The doctor stopped speaking in mid sentence as he reached down and pulled a pager from his pants pocket. "Excuse me, please. I have an emergency. Sherry, will you please fill this young man in on his cousin's condition? I will return as soon as possible."

With that Dr. Kalember gathered up his notes and practically ran for the door.

Dean waited until the doctor had exited the room before rounding on the nurse. "Are you sure he has a license to practice medicine?"

The words, coming out of Dean's mouth, could easily have been mistaken for sarcasm. But for once Dean was being serious.

Sherry smoothed her ponytail back as she sat down in the chair the doctor had vacated. Licking her lips she nodded her head. "Let me fill you in on Brian's status and then I'll answer any questions you have about the psychiatrist."

Dean's head snapped up at the word 'psychiatrist' but he waited for Sherry to explain what was going on. If he lost it now, he might end up in restraints along with Sam. He began to drum his fingers impatiently on the table top.

Folding her hands on the table in front of her, Sherry launched into an explanation. "When the police brought your cousin in they thought he was drunk. The rapid tox screen didn't show a high blood alcohol content but it did show some abnormalities."

Dean's thinking processes shuddered to a crawl. Abnormalities in Sam's blood...his mind flashed back to the demonic plague in Oregon. Could Sam have been infected after all? The doctor there had claimed Sam's blood was virus free but something was off. He shook his head, willing this explanation to be wrong, and gestured for Sherry to continue.

Sherry rubbed a hand across her cheek before continuing. "Brian became even more violent in the exam room and had to be restrained, both for his protection and the staff's. He knocked several staff to the ground before they could administer a sedative. Based on some of the comments he made it seemed prudent to call in a psychiatrist. Brian is now being held on an Emergency Detention and Dr. Kalember's role is to assess your cousin and make a recommendation at the Probable Cause Hearing."

Dean jumped to his feet and started pacing. This wasn't making sense. "Whoa. Back up. You're committing my brother, what, for observation?"

She cleared her throat again before visibly swallowing. "He's being held for assessment and the court will decide if he should be committed for treatment. Your cousin was talking about demons coming for him and how he'd kill himself before he'd let them turn him. We know alcohol isn't fueling these delusions so we need to figure out what's going on with him. I'll need to take a full history from you since Brian isn't able to answer our questions right now."

Dean rubbed the heels of both hands into his eyes. This was a nightmare. He didn't know if Sam had been infected with a slow acting demonic virus or if he was having some sort of breakdown. Unfortunately, the part about the demons coming for him was true.

He tried to sort through the facts. He knew Sam had been on the decline for weeks now and Dean had witnessed his usually even tempered brother put his hand into the wall. And now he supposedly had taken on a bar and then ER staff in some sort of free for all. It didn't add up.

He impatiently answered Sherry's questions. No, his cousin didn't have a history of mental illness. He was in good physical health. No, he didn't know when his cousin had last had a bowel movement and he wasn't on any medications unless you counted Tylenol and Rolaids.

Sherry gathered up her forms and promised that when she returned he could sit with his cousin as long as Brian remained calm.

Dean folded his arms across the table and let his forehead sink down upon them. Worry throbbed in the pit of his stomach and a tension headache blossomed behind his eyes. He couldn't wait to see Sam. Maybe he would be coherent enough to tell him what was going on.


The saliva fled his mouth as he was escorted into Sam's room. Any hope of getting the truth out of his brother was shattered as he took in the battered form before him.

A sheet was pulled up to his chest, limbs hidden beneath it. The face, tilted away from the doorway, was a ghastly pale shade with bruises and red spots dotting the jaw line. The bottom lip was split open and weeping while the eye visible from his vantage point was mottled with deep purple.

Rage surged through Dean. Someone had really done a number on his brother and he itched to teach them a lesson. But first he needed to take care of Sam.

Sherry pulled back the sheet to reveal one slim wrist encased in leather, strapped down to his side. Restraints.

She expertly checked the straps for fit on the uninjured wrist before moving over and doing the same for the straps holding his cast down. She moved on to do the same to his ankles, also ruthlessly trussed to prevent movement. She looked up and saw Dean observing her. "I know it seems a bit extreme but your cousin was out of control. This is for his protection as much as for ours."

Dean didn't want to believe it but he could tell by the state Sam was in that something heavy had gone down.

He pulled a chair shakily up to Sam's bed and sat quietly as soon as Sherry left the room. This is not how he'd envisioned this trip. His brother had needed to relax badly; instead he was hog tied to a bed in a hospital on the fast track to a mental institution. Or worse, infected with some demonic virus.

He stared down at the floor for a moment, feeling a little overwhelmed. The misunderstanding he and Sam had weighed on his mind. He'd known something was wrong with Sam but had lost his patience in the face of his brother's reticence. And he certainly hadn't expected Sam's explosive reaction to his prodding. Somehow the brothers had fallen out of sync. Leaning forward he touched Sam's shoulder tentatively. "Sammy, you in there?"

He was shocked when Sam's head rolled toward his voice and bleary eyes blinked up at him through a tangle of brown hair. Squinting, his brother replied in a groggy voice. "Dean, that you? What happened?"

Dean's whole body sagged with relief as he lightly rubbed Sam's shoulder before withdrawing his hand. Sam sounded coherent. Well, sort of coherent. He recognized Dean and that was all important in his book. "Yeah, that's the billion dollar question. Apparently you decided to cut loose on Cliff and Norm before ending up here in the hospital. Is that ringing any bells for you?"

Confusion reigned as Sam frowned and shook his head no. He tried to lift a hand and his dazed eyes turned to Dean. "Dean?"

Sam's voice had that lost, little boy quality that always brought out his protectiveness. Not that it was needed when it came to Sam; he'd spent his whole life looking out for his brother.

Sam's frown turned to anger as he pulled on all of his limbs in an attempt to break free. "Just simmer down, Sam. They're not going to turn you loose if you act up like this."

Sam stared long and hard at Dean while straining against his bonds. He was working himself into a lather.

Dean had to keep the situation from escalating. He stood up and pinned Sam down by the shoulders. "Sam, snap out of it!"

His brother finally relaxed back against the pillows, eyelashes brushing his cheeks. When Sam's eyes opened again, the pupils were fully dilated, all black but for a hint of grayish green on the outermost ring. Sam's attention was focused somewhere in the distance.

Before Dean could reason out what was happening, his brother's eyes rolled back into his head and tremors cascaded through his body.

Dean sprinted out into the hall. Sherry was standing behind a counter and was writing something in a chart. He grabbed her arm and pulled her around the counter. "Help him!"

She ran into Sam's room, took in the scene before her, and stuck her head out the door. "Call a code!"

Sherry quickly undid the restraints holding Sam down. His neck bulged as his body arched backward. After twenty seconds Sam's muscles began to violently contract and relax, jerking him around like a marionette on a string.

Sam's jaws were clenched shut and his face had taken on a dusky, blue color.

A cart and assorted personnel piled into the room, pressing Dean against the wall. He couldn't have moved if his life had depended on it.

After what seemed like forever but in reality had only been a couple of minutes, the rigidity left Sam's body and he drooped across the bed. Competent hands deftly turned his limp brother on his side so he was facing Dean. The blue tinge was fading from his lips. He looked as though he were merely deep asleep instead of recovering from convulsions.

Sam's bed was pushed out the door with the words EEG ringing in his ears. The crisis seemed to have passed, leaving Dean shaken in its wake. At the moment a seizure seemed every bit as malevolent as a demonic virus.


Dean was shown to a private waiting area and found himself stalking back and forth like a caged animal. Sam had been out of his sight for over an hour and he was anxious.

He sank down on a couch and leaned over, bowing his head and clasping his hands loosely in his lap. He was at the end of his rope. Fatigue warred with the need to watch over his brother.

He was so exhausted he didn't hear the footfalls approach him. A soft feminine voice interrupted his thoughts. "Excuse me, Mike? This is Dr. Preston."

Sherry had returned and with her was a tall, striking, silver haired man. Dean found his hand pumped up and down forcefully as he climbed to his feet.

The man tugged on his goatee before gently urging Dean to sit back down. "We've identified the cause of Brian's seizure and his violent outburst."

Dean sagged back against the cushions, all of his attention focused on the man who apparently held the answers to Sam's condition.

Dr. Preston pulled up a chair and sat next to Dean. "We got the results of his blood tests back and it looks like your cousin overdosed on a stimulant."

Of all the things Dean had been expecting to hear, that was the last one. His much admired wit abandoned him as he struggled to follow what the doctor was telling him. "Huh?"

The doctor shook his head in sympathy. "That's right. We found large traces of Adderall, a medication used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder, in Brian's blood. Lots of kids use it for performance enhancement on tests and studying but it can also act like a regular Amphetamine. Do you know if Brian has used it before?"

Words failed Dean for a moment but then his brain fired back up. "He doesn't touch drugs. There's no way he did that to himself."

The doctor looked skeptical. "Okay, maybe someone slipped it to him at the bar. In any case, the Adderall coupled with all of the antacid in his system created quite a chemical cocktail. Your cousin must be very sensitive to medications in order to suffer from such an adverse reaction."

That was Sam. Apparently sensitive in all things.

So Sam wasn't suffering the effects of some virus. He could have kissed the doctor but settled for another hand shake. "When can I take him home?"


Dean reached his arms overhead and tried to work some of the kinks out of his neck and back. It was one thing to relax in the driver's seat of the Impala for hours on end and another to be confined to these obnoxious pieces of plastic that the hospital passed off as chairs.

But despite his mild discomfort, things were looking up. He'd arrived at the ER twenty-four hours ago in near panic, thinking Sam had either succumbed to some other worldly infection or he'd lost his marbles. Thankfully neither of those scenarios had been correct.

After several hours of continuous monitoring, the staff had deemed Sam safe from further seizures as the drug finally worked its way out of his system. Those damned antacids Sam had sucked down like candy had caused retention and absorption problems, wreaking havoc on his brother's fragile system.

Antacids. That had been an eye opener. The staff had whisked his brother away a short while ago to perform some nasty procedure which involved sticking a flexible camera down his throat and peering around his insides.

Here he'd thought Sam was just blessed with a dour disposition and come to find out he had an ulcer. The cause was some non-demonic bacteria which sounded like heliocopter pie to him, coupled with stress. Sure, stress wouldn't cause an ulcer but it sure as hell didn't help matters. And Sam had suffered in spades this last year. At least if you counted your girlfriend and dad dying on you as well as dealing with crazed hunters and obsessed demons.

But ulcers could be treated. An antibiotic, a heavy duty antacid and some rest would do the trick.

Sam looked wrecked but the doctor had assured him that later in the morning, barring complications, his cousin would be released. They had already dismissed the Emergency Detention.

He'd thought about bundling Sam up and making a run for it but he was loath to disturb him. He was finally resting comfortably, sans restraints.

Sam stirred and flipped over on to his other side, so that he now faced away from where Dean was sitting.

Dean didn't care for that arrangement. He had news for Sam – it would be a long, long time before he'd let his brother out of his sight. He dragged the chair over to the other side of the bed so he could watch his brother breathe.


Dean helped his brother into the new motel room. They were now using different IDs due to health insurance scam considerations so a change of venue had seemed in order. He had quietly checked out of the old place, fetched Sam from the hospital, and settled him in a different motel room down the street. It seemed remarkably similar to the one they'd just vacated – minus the dent in the wall.

The staff at the hospital had warned him that it would take "Brian" a while to bounce back but he hadn't really believed them…until now. He could tell his normally resilient brother needed to rest when he observed him wavering in front of the bathroom mirror, mouth full of toothpaste and toothbrush in hand, with his eyes closed. The phrase 'dead on his feet' sprang to mind but he quickly shook it off. After witnessing the seizure he didn't want the word 'dead' applied to his brother in any shape, way or form.

He put a hand on Sam's shoulder. "Come on Sammy. Time to rinse and then hit the sack."

Sam didn't argue. He cracked his bleary, bloodshot eyes open and complied with the suggestion to rinse before allowing Dean to guide him out of the bathroom and settle him in bed.

His brother moved restlessly on the bed for a couple of minutes before drifting off to sleep. Dean sat heavily on the other bed and just watched, mesmerized, as his chest moved up and down in a steady, slow rhythm.

Sam was sprawled on his back and Dean, remembering what the nurses had said about seizures and choking hazards, carefully turned Sam on his side.

Sam muttered something unintelligible and batted a hand at Dean but didn't rouse any further. Dean returned to his bed and took up his vigil again. Nothing was going to happen to Sam. Not on his watch.


Sam slid in and out of sleep for the next forty-eight hours.

He kept his eyes closed and listened to the familiar noises around him. His thoughts drifted as he struggled to become fully alert. He could hear Dean softly rustling somewhere to his left. His brother had barely left his side since he'd picked him up from the hospital.

This fact only managed to increase his guilt; everything that had happened, from the ulcer to being drugged in the bar, was his own fault. It had all been avoidable. He'd turned himself into the victim this time around.

He'd been so oblivious he hadn't even realized how much his stomach was affecting him. It had kind of snuck up on him but looking back he realized he'd been making poor decisions for at least a month now which coincided with his symptoms.

He was startled out of his thoughts when hands gently but firmly turned him on his side.

His eyes flew open and met the surprised face of Dean. "Dude, what are you doing?" he asked.

His brother grinned sheepishly before shrugging his shoulders. "Sorry. I thought you were still asleep."

Sam struggled to find the logic in that statement but it eluded him. "So you turn me like a rotisserie chicken when you think I'm sleeping?"

Dean repeated the Gallic shrug again. "It's…they said…I…oh, forget it."

Sam was perplexed but he let Dean's baffling behavior go for the moment as he took a good, hard look at him. He had dark circles under his eyes and his complexion looked sallow. "Are you okay?"

His brother snorted. "Am I okay? I'm not the one who almost got thrown into the loony bin. And let's not forget the hole in your stomach. So yeah, in comparison I'd say I'm doing just ducky."

He wrinkled his nose in aggravation. Everything was one, big joke with Dean. At least on the outside. But inside? Who knew. Dean played things close to the vest.

Dean, all smooth subtly, changed the topic before he could quiz him further. "Are you ready for some food?"

Before Sam could answer, his stomach growled plaintively.

Dean laughed the first genuine laugh he'd heard in what seemed like months. "I'll take that as a yes. Will you be alright here by yourself?"

He wanted to say something smart assed about his brother's hovering but his heart wasn't in it. Hanging around, watching Sam sleep, must be boring his brother out of his mind yet he hadn't complained. Instead of a snappy quip, he settled for shaking his head.

Dean looked at him searchingly before grabbing up his wallet and keys. "Get some rest."

Sam's eyes drooped despite the fact that he didn't want to rest. Remembering Dean's odd behavior when it came to Sam sleeping on his back, he scrunched the pillow before turning on his side. He didn't want to cause his brother any more grief.


A hand shook his shoulder gently. "Sammy."

His eyes snapped open and he glanced at the clock. Dean had been gone for over an hour but he'd returned with something that smelled good. Cheeseburgers. And fries.

By the time he'd levered himself into a sitting position, Dean was pulling items out of a brown paper bag and setting them on the table in the corner of the room. "Soup's on."

Not soup, cheeseburgers. As he pulled up a chair, he realized Dean hadn't been kidding. A Styrofoam container with chicken noodle soup was set out before him. He watched as Dean fished a burger and fries out of the bag and set them across the table. Away from Sam.

Sam looked down at the soup and then at the burger with longing. There was a brief pang in the apex of his stomach, a reminder of his healing ulcer. He regretfully dug into his soup, mourning the cheeseburger his brother was picking up with bruised and scraped hands.

Dean's knuckles were skinned and raw looking. There was also a red mark on his brother's jaw. "What happened?" he asked, gesturing to Dean's knuckles.

His brother washed a bite of burger down with a swallow of soda. "Funny you should ask. I ran into some old acquaintances of yours. Incredible hulks with a paint job if you ask me. They apologized for messing with your drink. One of them had a hard on for the delicious Brandy. Never go for girls who are named after drinks. Trust me on this one. That was your first mistake."

Sam shook his head while trying to connect the dots. And then it clicked – Dean had figured out who had drugged him and had 'talked' to them. He knew there was more to the story but the main point was Dean had solved the problem.

Dean was always stepping in and solving his problems. He had been doing it as long as Sam could remember. Ever since Sam was born.

Dean could have let the police handle things but that wasn't his style. He didn't want to condone the violence Dean had obviously visited on the Neanderthals at the bar but in some twisted way, it made him feel good. His brother was always looking after him. It made him feel special. Loved.

But it bothered him because he never really had the chance to repay his brother.

He looked at Dean's scrapes and then looked him in the eye. Getting even with the blockheads who had drugged him was just one in a long line of instances where Dean had his back. "Hey Dean, I…"

His brother narrowed his eyes at him suspiciously. "What?"

His brother managed to infuse a wealth of meaning in that one word. Don't finish that sentence…don't turn this into a moment…let it go.

But Sam couldn't let it go. And he knew if push came to shove, he would return the favor by doing the only thing he knew to keep his brother safe. He'd leave.

If he wanted to break out of victim mode and go on the offensive then this would accomplish it.

He hoped it wouldn't come to that, but if he was at all tempted toward the dark side then he would disappear if it meant keeping Dean safe.

Under Dean's steady stare he finally responded. "Nothing. I was just wondering if that burger tastes as good as it smells."

He would do his best to pretend nothing had changed since Dean had revealed their dad's final words to him, including swallowing back his gratitude. But he vowed to protect his brother at all costs.

Big brothers hadn't cornered the market on that just yet.



A/N 2: So here's the prompt in all its glory -- Post-Croatoan/Hunted (since they occur together). Sam doesn't get sick in Croatoan, but what if he comes down with something soon after the boys are reunited in Hunted? What doubts does this raise in Dean's mind? In Sam's? The severity and nature of Sam's illness are totally open to the writer. Bonus points if it deals with Dean's anxiety of Sam leaving and Sam's anxiety over staying with Dean.

I hope I did this prompt justice! Thanks for reading.